Seems like a timesaver in tax season: Scan all documents and let software auto-fill information from clients’ forms. Selecting scanners, however, means gambling that a hardware investment will, in fact, pay off, and that can mean carefully examining your client base and information flow.

“We do use a scanner to scan in bookkeeping and tax paperwork,” said Turlock, Calif.-based EA Kathy Rocha, a member of the National Association of Enrolled Agents. “It certainly saved us with filing cabinet space, and also paper.”

Scanned documents can be saved as an industry-standard document -- often a PDF -- to a client’s folder on a hard drive. Scanned documents can also, using some software, be linked to a client’s return for each year, which can make it easy to send the client a copy of their completed return with copies of all supporting documents for their return.

Scanner types include:

  • Flatbed, a thin desktop model that offers excellent clarity for legal documents, books, newspaper articles and other detailed documents. Prices start at around $50.
  • Sheetfed, similar in look to flatbed scanners but offering faster document feeding at the cost of some resolution quality. Prices start at around $70.
  • Portable, including some just a little bigger than a pen and that generally scan line by line. Prices start at about $100 to $150.

Some preparers might not even have to make a new purchase to start scanning. “Many people may already have the scanner feature on their printers and just don't know it,” noted Rocha. “We have a Canon IR3300 that scans. One of things that we looked at as far as features when evaluating the machine was ease of use and speed. The machine gets high marks with both. It can scan in using a feeder as well as on the glass, and can do double-sided. We’re able to scan onto a separate drive on our server to free up room on the main drive and not slow us down.” Many copy machines also have scanning features.
Among general tips for scanning:

  • Scan documents in black-and-white and at full size. Try to scan documents right side up for best extraction of information to auto-fill forms.
  • Scan at the dots-per-inch (DPI) level recommended by the scanner or software maker. Scanning at a lower level and then saving at the recommended DPI generally won’t produce the same clarity in a document.
  • Get reviews and references for any specific system and software. PC Magazine did one on scanners recently, as did CNet.
  • Scanning software for tax practices is generally “forms processing” software that can extract selected information to auto-fill forms and categorize information for storage on a hard drive. Software reviews can also help pinpoint the best software for a given scanner and also offer price guides.
  • If you’re storing client files on a hard drive, strongly consider cloud backups.